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ASL My Heavenly Father Loves Me

Sister Jensen, the Senior Primary Music Leader, thought this month’s song would be a good candidate for an ASL overlay, so I put something together and thought I’d share it.

I started with the straight-up ASL version the church provides and made some modifications to make it more sign-able by English speakers but I believe I succeeded in keeping it true ASL. I flipped the order of some adjective-noun pairs to match the English but that is commonly done by native signers, so I don’t feel too bad about it. And it has the huge advantage of making it much easier for the signer to simultaneously sing the English. I also decided on a different translation of “of which I’m a part” at the end of the second verse than what the church provides. I think this version is more poetic and I’m more comfortable with some of the doctrinal ramifications. One other translation choice I made differently is that of “magical.” I chose AMAZING instead of BEAUTIFUL because of the visual rhyme it creates with SOUND.

There were two parts where I didn’t sync the English with the ASL. The first is “and the wind as it rushes by,” translated as AND WIND(modified). Notice as you watch the video that you start the AND sign at the beginning of the phrase but don’t finish it until you finish singing “wind.” The WIND(modified) ends up lining up with “as it rushes by” but it does a better job than English describing that concept so I think it works well.

The second part that doesn’t sync is for “or walk by our lilac tree.” I loved the church’s change in the ASL to SMELL FLOWER TREE. Smelling a tree is definitely more poetic in sign than walking by it. So, when you think the sign for “walk by” looks a lot like you’re smelling something, you now know what’s going on.

Like I said, I tried to simplify the ASL as much as possible without losing the legitimacy of the language, and I believe I succeeded; however, if you feel like there are still too many signs for your primary kids, you can drop the signs that I’ve asterisked in the gloss below. A Deaf audience member would probably still get the general meaning.

Two final points for the uninitiated to ASL: the all-caps words above (and below) are a formal representation of sign called Gloss. It’s the academician in me coming out. Basically, when I write WIND, I don’t mean “wind!!!”, I am using English text to symbolically represent a specific sign that is translated into English (usually) as “wind.” Second point: when you see my eyebrows moving around in the video, that’s not just me being strange; that’s actually part of the grammer and if you can copy it, so much the better. If not, don’t stress it. Just let this beautiful language bring out the spirit of this lovely song.

I’m sorry if I’ve made this sound more complicated than it is. You can just ignore everything I’ve said here and copy the video. You’ll be just fine.



Translation gloss:

Whenever I hear the song of a bird


Or look at the blue, blue sky,

LOOK          BLUE*      SKY

Whenever I feel the rain on my face


Or the wind as it rushes by,

AND              WIND(modified)

Whenever I touch a velvet rose


Or walk by our lilac tree,


I’m glad that I live in this beautiful world


Heav’nly Father created for me.



He gave me my eyes that I might see


The color of butterfly wings.

COLOR    BUTTERFLY(modified)

He gave me my ears that I might hear


The magical sound of things.


He gave me my life, my mind, my heart:


I thank him rev’rently


For all his creations, of which I’m a part.


Yes, I know Heav’nly Father loves me.



(You can swap the honorary palm-open version of ME for the simple finger-pointed version if you want.)


And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

To celebrate the last Primary day of the year, today we had a free-form music time. I picked names from the name can and the children got to pick what song we sang. Of course we had a number of Christmas songs, but we sang songs from all over the song book. We even sang one round of Jingle Bells. I know, you’re not supposed to stray from the church materials, but that little girl was so cute I just couldn’t help myself, so I asked the presidency to close their ears and we sang it.

The most noteworthy thing that happened today was unplanned. As each child came up to tell us their favorite song, I asked them if they wanted to lead it. I didn’t push them too hard, but I did encourage a couple of them from initial hesitance to wide-eyed acquiescence. I showed the child (in front of the group, of course) how to hold their hand and then I held their wrist as we beat through the song. It was fun for me and I think the kids enjoyed it too. I even saw a few kids beating the pattern from their seats. So, I guess it’s never too early to start preparing them for future music callings.


Visual Aid Logistics, Take 2

I am here to report Victory! Brother Hale can be taught.

After my challenges of last week with the logistics of using the nativity scene in my Music Time, I thought carefully about how I could do a better job especially with the transitions. And what I came up with seems to have worked out really well.

This time around, I picked a different nativity that could handle some mild jostling and then laid it out on a soft blanket (a faux sheep skin, actually).

Nativity on a blanketNo, the angel isn’t original to the set.

nativity on a blanket - closeupDetail shot of lovely little olive-wood pieces.

And then I wrapped the whole thing up, folded in the ends and stuffed it in a bag.

nativity on a blanket wrapped up

When it came time for me to do my thing, I simply pulled the blanket out of the bag, unrolled it on the table at the front of the primary room, and I was ready! And then when the children were each done with their piece, they put it right back on the same blanket and my cleanup was simply rolling up the blanket again. Nothing short of elegant, I must say.

One other logistical note. Last week I wrote key words on the board for the different verses, but I’m not a stellar spellar and it proved to just be one more thing for me to juggle, so this time I decided to print out 8 1/2 x 11 sheets with 3 or 4 key words on each (one sheet per verse) and simply stick them on the board when I needed them (whoever invented magnetic chalk boards should get a Nobel prize). Putting up and taking down 4 or 5 sheets of paper proved to be much simpler than writing out and later erasing 20ish words.

So, once again, if ye are prepared ye shall not bungle the job.

One other change I made which seemed to work out better than last week was in how I had the kids interact with the pieces. Last week we slowly built the Nativity scene and I had each child point to each piece at the appropriate time during the song. But it seemed a bit muddled and I wasn’t sure the kids in the back could really see. So, this time I had them stand in a line and simply hold up the allotted piece at the appointed time. I think the participants enjoyed it better and I think it was more clear what part was being focused on.

I hope these last two posts aren’t too dull. Interesting logistics is a bit on the oxymoronic side. But hopefully they’re helpful to someone.

And speaking of oxen, that reminds me, I still need to polyurethane my buffalo chips…


Visual Aid Logistics

One of the biggest tricks with visual aids in Primary music time seems to be the logistics.

One of the songs I’m teaching the kids this month is the sweet little melody which basically runs through the entire nativity and which is creatively called, “The Nativity Song.” As many music leaders have done before me, I thought it would be nice to use an actual nativity set to help the children visualize the song and so I found one that had all the parts (minus the angel which I borrowed from another decoration), put it with its original packing in my Sunday bag and headed confidently off to church.

My problems began as I started to think through how I was going to unpack the set and get it ready for use while not interrupting the Primary announcements and such. I just couldn’t see any way to do it. So, I decided to just unpack as I introduced the song to the kids. This worked out fairly well, but I felt a little discombobulated as I tried to describe the words of the song while simultaneously dealing with the styrofoam beads that started to break off from the packing and stick to Mary, Joseph, and the other participants at the baby’s birth.

Nativity Set

Once I got through this awkward start, teaching the song went along just fine, but I didn’t ever feel like I was entirely steady on my feet and I’m sure it translated into a less smooth experience for the children.

The real challenge came at the end when I was finished with my allotted time and I had shepherds, wise men, styrofoam balls, and a stray sheep strewn all over the front of the primary room. The only thing I could do was clean up my mess as unobtrusively as possible while the counsellor in the presidency went into her sharing time presentation.

Now, I’m kind of making this a bigger deal than it probably was, but I feel like a big part of engaging the Primary children comes from your confidence and the fluidity of your presentation. If you have a lot of starts and stops and stutters, you’re going to lose their attention fast. And I think a lot of the smoothness of the presentation is dependent on the details of the transitions. So, from that perspective, I really botched the job.

But, God didn’t wait long to give me the solution to my problem.

Given the time of the year, it wasn’t a big surprise to see that the counsellor who was leading the sharing time was also using a nativity set for her presentation. And she nailed the logistics.

First, she had each nativity piece in a separate little box that different children got to pick, open, and present to the group. Second, after talking about that piece, she asked the child to put the box in a bag she had prepared and the piece on the table. No styrofoam and no big clunky packaging. Third, her nativity set was made of more durable stuff than was mine so, when she was through, she could just pick each one up and drop it in her bag whereas I had spent a solid ninety seconds just trying to figure out why my packaging wouldn’t close (I had the sheep in backwards).

The big lesson for me isn’t necessarily the specifics of how the experienced counsellor managed her logistics, it’s that she thought through the details of her various transition points and prepared for them. And now I’m doing the same for my lesson next week as we continue to learn “The Nativity Song.” I’ll let you know how it goes.


Hunting Chips for Wood

I really enjoy the pioneer songs we have in the Children’s Song Book but last July I was too busy getting into my calling to really have much of a chance at singing them with the kids, so I decided to pull out a couple for Thanksgiving. One of my favorites is on page 216, Little Pioneer Children. I think it does a wonderful job of rejoicing in the great things the pioneers did for us without ignoring the rough stuff. Also, it nicely sets up the lessons we can take away even in our ultra-modern lives of luxury; lessons of gladly helping each other, working together, and still finding time to play.

To introduce the song to the kids, I decided to follow the lead of the great Sister J, my Primary Music Leader mentor. I remembered she made sure the children understood just what was meant by “See the pioneer children hunting chips for wood” and I thought it really connected with the kids, so I decided to try the same. I started out with a dramatic little question: “Did you know that we have a song in our Primary Song Book that talks about … poop!” That got everyone’s attention, I believe. The Bishop was in to give a message and I was just a bit nervous about what he would think, but I decided to go ahead with what I had planned*.

After my attention grabber, I told them in animated tones about how the pioneers were walking through a huge prairie that had very few trees but that God had provided them with something they could burn despite the lack of wood. It wasn’t quite like manna from heaven, but it did prove to be every bit as useful in its unexpected blessing. I talked to them about how the pioneer children had the important but not entirely pleasant job of gathering the deposits the buffalo** had left behind and that through their hard work, their families had fire to cook with and to keep themselves warm at night.

Well, I think the message came across quite effectively and the kids seemed to pick up the song pretty well, so I decided to promise them a reward. I told them that I was going to bring in a real buffalo chip! You see, I remembered from the great Sister J’s presentation that she had an actual specimen and I had high hopes that I would be able to borrow it from her. The kids were very excited about this and I left church that day with grand visions of satisfying their innocent exuberance. But then I couldn’t get a hold of Sister J and I began to dispair. Where was I going to find a buffalo chip in the modern state of Utah? Sure, my home town of Mapleton isn’t exactly cosmopolitan but even we don’t seem to have buffalo herds roaming the fields.

I can’t say I really made it a matter of prayer (“Heavenly Father, I’m wondering if you could direct me to some, um, well, …” Yeah, that just didn’t seem to be the top priority in my life) but it turns out that somebody must have really wanted to see a buffalo chip because the Windows of Heaven opened and poured out a blessing that needed some careful handling in the reception.

About a week after we sang the song, I was finishing up work at the end of the day and a friend of mine called me asking if I and a couple of my boys would be interested in helping cut up one of their cows. I’m quite interested in all sorts of domestic production and so we jumped in the car and headed to the address my friend gave me. The home we arrived at in the middle of Mapleton belongs to a friend of my friend who had some pretty serious meat processing equipment sitting in his garage and he was letting my friend use it to process his cow. It was a fascinating experience with the bandsaw spinning, the knives flashing, and the grinder grinding, but they really got my attention when I heard them talking about “the buffalo.” I pieced together a couple random bits of the conversation, experienced a blinding flash of realization and turned to my host with, “Do you have buffalo in your backyard?” to which he replied, “Yup.” I was dumbfounded. Here I have lived in Mapleton, Utah for over a decade and I never knew we had our very own herd of buffalo! And I discovered this amazing truth only a week after my promise to the Primary children.

Needless to say, I was quick to ask if I could come back during the daylight and gather a chip or two and, also needless to say, they thought I was weird, but graciously granted my request. I was planning to return in the spring when I was more confident I’d find transportable samples, but my friend and his son beat me to it when they showed up on my doorstep last night with a repurposed grocery bag. (“Dad, someone’s here to give you some crap!”) I was touched by their kindness.

And so, now I am the proud owner of two healthy examples of the lesser-known sibling to God’s manna from heaven and they only need a couple layers of polyurethane before I can fullfil my promise to the children.

Ah, the faith of a child.


* Our good Bishop did a very kind follow-up after I was done, reinforcing the lesson of the poop and allaying my concerns.

** Yes, I know they are really called American Bison, but really, do you think “American Bison Chips” rolls off the tongue anywhere near as smoothly as “Buffalo Chips”?

Primary Program

We did it. The kids were fabulous and we had lots and lots of happy parents.

I thought I’d have a lot to report, but I really don’t think anything noteworthy happened. If ye are prepared, ye shall not have any surprises, and apparently, if you have no surprises, ye have nothing interesting to report.

The one lesson I learned from this experience is just a minor one. The Senior Primary music leader had made the excellent suggestion that we each sit in either aisle about 1/3 way back so the kids could see us but that we wouldn’t get in the way of the parents seeing the kids. Because we were lower profile, we each took an aisle so the kids on one side could see one of us and the kids on the other side could see the other of us. The only trick left was to make sure the two of us were in sync which we accomplished through the simple solution of me keeping an eye on her and following her every move. That way we’d not only time things synchronously but we’d also match rhythm and beat patterns. It was all lovely.

And now we are free to play around for the next few weeks until we start all over again in January. I’ve already had a peek at the 2013 program and am pretty sure that the songs will mostly be a cinch (January is I am a Child of God) and that the theme will be wonderful (my favorite Primary song is included: A Child’s Prayer). It should be a great year.



Every once in a while, when chatting with friends, the topic of extroversion comes up and, if I’m feeling safe among the other conversationalists, I’ll mention that I am shy. Based on my previous posts on this blog, you may find this admission incongruous with the picture you are developing of me, but trust me, it is true. At heart, I’m actually quite terrified of people.

When I was an adolescent, I was a late bloomer and didn’t feel like I fit in with most of my peer group. I was not athletic, I was not eloquent, I was not clever in any way that I could see. My favorite thing to do was find a quiet place and read. I went on precisely 2 dates in high school and never put myself out in front of a crowd unless I had the protective shield of my cello in front of me.

As I’ve grown up a bit, I have, mostly out of necessity, found myself in front of crowds more and have come to value and even enjoy the experience to some degree; however, I still periodically find myself in situations that test my courage. Last Sunday in Primary was one of those.

It was the week before the big Primary Program and we spent the full two hours as one big, boisterous primary running through the program dress(ish) rehearsal. We didn’t have the luxury of practicing in the chapel (the most reverent room in the building) so we were in the Primary room and Cultural Hall (a.k.a. Gym: the least reverent room in the building). On the whole, the kids were doing an admirable job of remembering the sabbath day, but the cards were kinda’ stacked against them and, round about the half-way mark, we needed some serious diversion. So, the Senior Primary music leader, Sister Jensen, and I tag teamed some wiggle songs with the whole crowd and were getting some pretty good participation except from one group: the 11-year old boys: the cool kids.

Now, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I think this demographic is one of the biggest reasons for installing men as Primary music leaders and I kind of take them as a personal challenge. Being the Junior Primary music leader, I only get interaction with them sporadically, so I try to take special advantage of those moments. And now I had one.

First we led the kids through a pretty solid “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and then one I made up about a mammoth that loosens up the muscles (and the inhibitions) a good bit. All the while, I kept making eye contact with this group of boys on the back row and trying to get them to engage. And it was working. A couple of them bent for their Knees and Toes and most of them shuffled and stamped their big, hairy mammoth legs. And they were doing it because Brother Hale was setting the example up in front. But then came the moment of truth.

It was Sister Jensen’s turn at the helm and she was leading the group through “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” She does a great job with it, letting a good range of kids pick how we’re going to show we’re happy. And she does the fun little ending where you pile each new happiness indicator on top of the last. We’d accumulated a couple or three things (“If you’re happy and you know it jump up and down, turn around, pat your head”) when Sister Jensen picked one of the nemeses of those 11 year old boys: a bubbly 11 year old girl. This sweet young woman is generally quite excited about life and her place in it, so it was no surprise when she said she wanted everyone to show they were happy by, “Acting like me!” Well, this consternated the crowd for a moment, but Sister Jensen pulled the momentum back into place by immediately translating for us: “If you’re happy and you know it act like Suzy*!” she said, and did a cute little flipping of her hair and bobbing of her hips. And thus, my whole world came screeching to a halt.

Do you remember that little bit about me being shy? Well, the place where my shyness is most firmly and deeply rooted is in presenting my body and its motions to the world. For example, I panic on the dance floor. I stand there surrounded by people flapping their arms, swinging their legs, and otherwise corporally expressing their exuberance and I’m frozen, wishing desperately for a quite place in which to read a book. Over the years, I’ve developed tools for overcoming my paralysis. I’ve taken dance lessons and have used those steps and sequences to lead my brain through the process; I’ve learned to juggle and use the practiced patterns of the flying balls to perform in public. But extemporaneous improvisation is something I’ve never been able to do. And getting my body to do something unpracticed and unscripted in front of a crowd is about the most terrifying thing you can ask of me. So, when Sister Jensen “acted like Suzy” I was terrified because I knew that I had to do the same. In front of the whole Primary. I didn’t have a choice. If I didn’t do it, I was going to show those 11 year old boys that they didn’t have to either. That there really were limits on what “real men” did.

And so, following Sister Jensen’s lead, I sang, “If you’re happy and you know it act like Suzy!” and I flipped my hair and bobbed my hips. And I’ll be jiggered if those boys didn’t follow along.


*This name has been changed to protect the innocent (parents).

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Adventures in Junior Primary Music Time